Everyone knows that driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious crime that can land you in jail. But few people know about boating while intoxicated (BWI) laws.
When we think of boating, we think of relaxing or even partying on the water, often with a cool beer in hand. We would never even consider doing the same while driving a car!
But the popular image of boozing while boating as “acceptable” behavior does not match the current state of the law in New York State. In 2006, Albany finally woke up to the statistical fact that boating while intoxicated is just as dangerous as driving a car while intoxicated. It thus passed a law ratcheting up the criminal penalties for boating while intoxicated to match those for driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated. And the BWI blood count limit is 08%, same as for driving a car. (The legal limit for minors is .02%).
Not all States are “on board” (pun intended!) with New York’s tougher boating laws. But they are getting there. For example, a recent tragic accident in Arkansas prompted legislatures there to follow in New York’s footsteps.
New York is behind, though, on one area of boating law. If you own a car, you are required to have liability insurance to cover bodily injury you, or anyone who uses your car with your permission, negligently cause others. No such law in New York applies to boats. If you are struck and injured or killed by a drunk boater, it is a crap shoot as to whether there will be any liability insurance coverage. Only forty percent of boats on our waters have boating liability insurance. If a negligent boater happens to own a home, his homeowner’s insurance may provide coverage, but usually not (boating is “excluded” in most homeowner’s insurance policies).
But even though there is no law requiring boaters to purchase boating insurance, they should! First, it is much cheaper than auto or home insurance. Second, it not only protects boaters from lawsuits brought by those they may have inadvertently injured, it also protects boaters and their passengers when they get injured by uninsured boaters! Uninsured boater coverage pays for medical treatment, lost income and pain and suffering compensation you and the occupants of your boat would have received from the negligent uninsured boater had he been insured. In other words, when the at-fault boater does not have boating liability insurance, you can put a claim in under your own boating insurance policy for damages the at-fault boater is legally liable to pay for but does not have insurance coverage to pay for.
In our humble opinion, since it is proven that BWI is as dangerous as DWI, and since New York recognizes this fact in its criminal law, it should take the next step and recognize this fact in its insurance requirements. Why should the law punish drunk boating the same as drunk driving but not give equal protection — by requiring liability insurance — to the injured victims of drunk boating? Answer: It should not. Albany should require boating liability insurance on all boats in New York waters.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.